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DRBC to Consider Revised Gas Drilling Rules Later this Month

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) later this month plans to consider adopting water quality regulations that would apply to all natural gas development projects in the basin, including the construction and operation of all gas wells, regardless of the target geologic formation, whether a well is for production or exploration, or whether high-volume or low-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is being considered.

The DRBC Tuesday issued the final version of the draft regulations, which were initially proposed almost a year ago. They were written to allow restricted natural gas development in affected areas of the Marcellus Shale (see Shale Daily, Dec. 10, 2010). The revised rulemaking, if approved, would add Article 7 Part III to basin regulations and would supersede the commission's determinations issued in 2010 and 2009 that temporarily banned gas development, the DRBC said.

The commission has federal regulatory authority to protect the watershed of the basin, which affects portions of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

Eighteen hours of public hearings on the rulemaking were held last February. The DRBC said it received about 69,000 submissions on the draft proposal during the public comment period, which ended April 15. The revised draft revisions, which at 104 pages are about 20 pages longer than the original draft rules, "were guided by the public's comments and commissioners' discussions with their respective staff, advisers and one another," the commission said.

According to the DRBC, the revised rules are divided into sections that address the purpose, authority and scope of the rule; definitions, administrative processes, water sources and conditions of bulk water use and management approvals for natural gas development projects; the protection of "high value" water resource landscapes and commission-designated Special Protection Waters through mandatory natural gas development plans for leases of 3,200 acres or more and for all project sponsors that intend to develop more than five well pads; and the transfer, treatment and discharge of wastewater generated by gas development activities.

The commission said it would "rely on the oil and gas program of the state in which a natural gas well is located to regulate the construction and operation activities of the natural gas well and well pad for which separate administration by the commission would result in unnecessary duplication. If a state or federal regulatory requirement is more stringent than a DRBC requirement, the more stringent regulation would apply." The rulemaking would take effect 60 days after commission approval.

If it is adopted, the rulemaking would "constitute a joint exercise of the sovereign authority of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and the federal government" under the Delaware River Basin Compact and would amend the DRBC's comprehensive plan for the basin.

The commission will consider the draft rulemaking from 10 a.m. to noon EST Nov. 21 at the Patriots Theater at the War Memorial, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, NJ. The meeting will be open to the public, but will not include a hearing to accept comments from the public prior to the anticipated vote, the DRBC said.

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